The 1970’s was a powerful time for oppressed groups. It is a time in which we really see a change in our nation, with a vibrant uprising of oppressed groups. Now, that’s not to say that things got “fixed,” but there was certainly a turn of the tide.
In The Female Man, by Joanna Russ, we are presented with four women who arguably represent four sides of what it meant to be a woman in the 1970s. Joanna – the every day woman, Janet – the feminist from Utopia, Jael – the warrior whose world is in constant conflict betwixt genders, and Jeannine – the alternate from a world in which the great depression never ended and women’s status never changed.
In class, we talked quite a bit about these worlds and what they force us to think about. Is Janet’s world possible without Jael’s? Does that mean that Utopia is only possible through a Dystopia? Or must they both exist (without thinking about the probability travel) in order for one of them to exist?
What I find the most interesting is that Jael’s world is presented as the Dystopia, and that’s how we talked about it in class (Ganyard, 2016). It’s an ugly world that is in stark contrast to Janet’s Utopia. There is war and violence, hatred and misandry, and a sexual co-dependence. So, we know it has to be the Dystopia. Yet, Jeannine is completely immersed in the most oppressed world. What I find interesting about this is that it is almost as if Russ is saying that war and misandry is worse than the oppressed state of women. But then! She writes that Jeannine and Joanna join Jael (211). So war is better than no action? I am puzzled.
The only thing I was reflecting on while reading is that Joanna sort of constrains her characters within the gender binary. This is most likely just a product of her time; but I can imagine how the worlds might be different if we consider that there are more than two genders. In fact, most of our language is centered around the binary. When we talk in class, we say “the other sex” or the “the two sexes,” for example. We don’t ask questions about trans individuals from Janet’s world. Just to pose more confusion, how might this book change if we used language that was outside of the binary?
Ganyard, Clif. Lecture. University of Wisconsin – Green Bay, 29 Sept. 2016, Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Russ, Joanna. The Female Man. Boston, Beacon Press, 1975.